Mother’s Day Dichotomy: Anna Jarvis’s Vision and Its Commercial Evolution

Despite her battle against its commercialization, mothers nationwide continue to embrace the celebration.

Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day, devoted her later years to fervently opposing the very holiday she had established.

 Initially, she saw its commercialization as a perversion of its intended purpose—to offer a simple tribute to mothers, like her own, whom she sought to honor. Jarvis engaged in extensive legal battles, wrote to political leaders, orchestrated protests, and publicly clashed with figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, even asserting her legal ownership of the holiday. 

Unfortunately, her determined efforts were both futile and financially draining. Her battle, deeply intertwined with her personal identity and sense of ownership, depleted her family’s wealth, and she died in a sanitarium in 1948, nearly forgotten at age 84.

The inspiration for Mother’s Day came from her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a Sunday school teacher who founded Mother’s Day Work Clubs to educate women on childcare. This idea made a profound impact on Anna, who, after her mother’s death in 1905, pledged to fulfill her mother’s wish for a day recognizing mothers’ societal contributions.

Anna Jarvis tirelessly campaigned to establish Mother’s Day, reaching out to influential figures like Mark Twain and President Theodore Roosevelt, and leveraging her connections, such as her friendship with Philadelphia businessman John Wanamaker. Her relentless advocacy helped to institutionalize Mother’s Day nationally.

The first official Mother’s Day ceremony in 1908 in Grafton featured hundreds of carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, and quickly gained prominence, even inspiring the creation of Father’s Day. By 1914, Mother’s Day had been officially declared a national holiday by Congress, the first one honoring mothers of fallen soldiers.

Yet, as the holiday gained popularity, it evolved into the commercialized event Jarvis detested. She criticized the exploitation by floral and greeting card companies and fought against the misrepresentation of the day she envisioned as a solemn tribute.

Jarvis also scrutinized charities that used Mother’s Day for fundraising during the Great Depression, which she opposed, arguing the day should honor rather than pity mothers. Despite her intense dedication, her view of motherhood was seen as somewhat narrow, influenced by her idolization of her own mother, because those who become mothers often have a broader, more complex understanding of the role, which can include advocacy and active involvement in broader societal issues affecting mothers and their children.

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